Socialisation to the workplace is a critical part of clinical placements. This includes developing ‘professionalism’ in the student. These skills are sometimes referred to as ‘soft’ skills. They are difficult to teach in a classroom setting and are best learned on the job through observing how others work and act and reflecting on their own behaviours and approaches. A good supervisor will help develop these skills through role modelling and with reflection and targeted questions in their supervision sessions. Professional boundaries, professional appearance and respectful communication can be considered three important aspects of professionalism.
Professional boundaries are important to ensure that the relationship between a patient /client and a health professional is both safe and helpful. Students must be aware of and maintain appropriate professional boundaries.
Everyday courtesies and social conventions are used in a professional relationship however the relationship is very different to an ordinary social relationship or friendship. There exists an imbalance of power in professional relationships that potentially places the patient / client in a position of vulnerability and may place them at risk of exploitation and abuse.
Crossing of professional boundaries may occur gradually and inadvertently if the health professional is not aware of the issues for example by becoming over involved in a patients/clients care. In extreme cases it may include extreme violation of a patient’s (client’s) rights such as the pursuit of a sexual or financial relationship.
Code of Conduct or ethics from either the organisation or professional body governs professional boundaries. As a supervisor think about how you can role model and draw the students attention to appropriate and inappropriate professional boundaries.
Professional Appearance: Dress standards whilst on placement should be consistent with the organisations and education providers’ requirements and be appropriate to the functions being performed, work health and safety, cultural diversity and local community standards. If a specific uniform is required, ensure the student is made aware of the requirements well before the placement.
A student identification badge provided by either the host organisation or the education provider must be worn and visible at all times.
Respectful communication: Students need to be encouraged to recognise and use respectful communication, a hallmark of professionalism, in their clinical practice. This includes the way they talk to clients, colleagues and other service providers. It also includes the way they document in clinical records.
Habits develop early in one’s professional life – use the clinical placement as an opportunity to influence positive behaviours.